Blog / Foundations, Visually Speaking

Images as Language

Peter Krogh
Wed Apr 22 2020

We are in a new era of visual communication. The smartphone has enabled visual communication at every level – personal, professional, and institutional. This has had a profound impact on every aspect of still and moving images – from cameras and software to the legal landscape, use cases, and business models. By understanding imagery as a language, we can understand these changes more organically. The rise of smartphone-based visual communication does not diminish the value of “traditional” photography and videography. As more people learn to speak these visual languages, they become more useful and important, and a new vernacular emerges—delighting some, horrifying others, and befuddling those who are not open to change. Think of how the development of the printing press made books so much more ubiquitous. It allowed more people to join in the creation—wresting control away from those few people who had mastered the old skills. Rather than diminishing the value of books, this popularization led to increased reading and knowledge dissemination; it opened the conversation to all. And as more people could publish, new voices emerged, and new uses and needs were created for the medium. The same is happening today with still and moving imagery.

Images are assets for everyone, not just the image makers

Our personal images and videos are our diaries, the expression of our identities, and our memories. They hold great value, and even if they have no monetary value, they are often priceless. In a corporate environment, digital imagery is essential to expressing your brand, your history, your products, and the people behind your institution. Photos and videos have also become essential business documents; they can serve as record-keeping and document—or protect from—liability. An organization’s digital media are truly its digital assets—with very real value attached. (Consider the cost to produce a photo or video shoot or your annual stock photography and/or clip-licensing budget.) Photos and videos are replacing written observation at an astounding pace, but in most cases, the tools and practices to work with these media lag behind the need. The problems that confronted photographers and videographers at the start of the digital age are now spreading to society at large. Yes, there are sharing services that can be effective channels for distribution. But most of these will be poor long-term repositories for your asset collection. As we examine Digital Asset Management practices, we’ll need to integrate traditional practices with the increasing role of imagery in all forms of communication. Seeing these forms as part of a new language should help you understand what’s happening and prepare for the future.

The challenge for DAM services

DAM services and cloud libraries have traditionally focused their features on communication from marketing and production departments. While those are still the primary drivers of DAM services, the balance is changing, and we need to provide services for these new, much larger use cases. We need to be able to manage the collection, classification, and rights-tagging of crowd-sourced media. This is a big departure for most DAM systems - in many cases, it’s simply been ignored. We are putting this challenge front and center in our product redesign. We feel that the same tools that can make professional visual communication more effective can also be used to power a much broader use case that includes employees, customers, and stakeholders in addition to the traditional constituencies of DAM services.

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